Trampling Civil Rights

WHICH are the worst countries in the world to live in?Which governments show least respect for the human rights of their own citizens?And what, if anything, should we do about it?These are interesting questions.

WHICH are the worst countries in the world to live in?

Which governments show least respect for the human rights of their own citizens?

And what, if anything, should we do about it?

These are interesting questions. And if some of the answers are not exactly unexpected, some of them are extremely interesting too. And not just a little worrying.

Let's start with the what-should-we-do question. It's not as obvious and straightforward as it might be.

The Nazi regime in Germany was about as bad as a government gets. Yet the world community showed little urge to prevent Hitler and Co from oppressing, torturing, even exterminating their own citizens.

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It was only when the Germans started invading other countries that Britain, or anyone else, felt the need to take them on. In modern parlance, to effect regime change from outside.

Stalinist Russia got away with mass murder for a lot longer, simply by keeping it at home.

By the 1970s, a new international tactic was in force.

The apartheid regime in South Africa came under attack, not from armies and bombers, but from pressure groups around the world.

Boycotts of companies like Barclays Bank, until they stopped doing business with South Africa, and sporting isolation turned the screw until the country changed from within.

Subsequently, the armed option has been pursued - with some apparent success in former Yugoslavia, less (up to now) in Afghanistan.

In the case of Iraq it is far from clear whether things are better today than under Saddam Hussein, and it is far too early to know what the long-term effects of the war may be.

Looking at the world overall, though, there are clearly signs that social, political and commercial pressure from outside can have an effect.

So which countries' civil rights records are so bad that the rest of us should consider action? Like not buying their goods, for example, or refusing to play sport with them.

The appalling human rights abuses in China have led to a deal of heartsearching in the West about whether we should have allowed them to host the next Olympics.

There was much talk about the rights and wrongs of playing cricket against Zimbabwe.

And Israel's treatment of its own Palestinian citizens worries many in London and New York as well as in the Arab states.

But wouldn't it be good to have a list of countries where things like torture, disappearances, violence against workers and denial of basic civil liberties are really bad?

It so happens we have one.

The magazine Ethical Consumer has come up with a league table of all the world's countries, rating them for just these things - along with unfair imprisonment, deployment of United Nations peacekeepers, prohibition of trade unions, and use of the death penalty.

Its main source of information is Amnesty International, but it also looked at data from such caring organisations as Human Rights Watch, Unicef and War on Want.

And the worst country in the world? Sudan, with black marks in all eight categories - no real surprise there.

Next, with seven marks, is China - again, no surprise. And after that, Burma, followed by Libya, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Syria.

In all, 37 countries with four or more marks appear under the heading of “oppressive regimes”.

They include Iraq and Iran; Cuba, Haiti and North Korea; Burundi, Indonesia and Vietnam.

But there is one major newcomer on the 2006 list, a country that was among the good guys when the last table was compiled in 2002. That country is the United States of America.

With black marks for holding prisoners of conscience, unexplained disappearances, use of the death penalty and torture, the USA is now listed as an oppressive regime.

That's right. The world's richest nation, owner of the most powerful armed forces, has shot up into the premiership of human rights abuses.

The self-appointed world policeman, arch-friend of the UK, has a worse civil rights rating than Afghanistan. Worse than Argentina. Worse than Brazil. Worse than Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Uganda or any country in Europe, including Turkey. Much worse than Israel, and as bad as Zimbabwe.

I told you it was worrying.



SO now we have a lame-duck prime minister, a hobbling duckling Tory leader - and a lame-duck England football coach.

The next few months will presumably be filled with speculation over who is to replace Sven Goran Eriksson after July.

And, of course, for Sven there will be the little matter of who his next employers are to be.

Will this cause him to take his eye off the World Cup ball? If so, how will we tell?

Sympathy for Eriksson over his latest “misfortune” with the News of the World is baffling.

He is suing the paper over its revelations, so perhaps we should be careful what we say. Significantly, though, he is not denying that he said every word attributed to him in the damning articles.

No wonder David O'Leary, the Aston Villa manager, was hopping mad at Sven plotting to take over his job.

If I were Michael Owen, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney - or even Sven's best-beloved David Beckham - I wouldn't be best pleased with his snide tittle-tattling either.

Naturally, the FA was reluctant to show Eriksson the door five months before a major tournament. But for him publicly to humiliate some of his key players in this way was already pretty destabilising.

The prospect of a court action he is by no means certain to win cannot help.

How much worse could it be to have a new man, filled with vigour, at the helm in Germany?

In the circumstances, I'd favour the bullish Sam Allardyce over the studious Alan Curbishley.

Neither, I suspect, would be greedy enough, arrogant enough, or plain gullible enough to fall for the old “fake sheikh” routine. Surely.